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Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms Hardcover – October 3, 2006
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Slang is so bountiful in American English that it lends itself to a variety of lexicographical approaches. A number of slang dictionaries have treated this most unconventional of vocabularies through the conventions of the standard canonical dictionaries, ranging them alphabetically, assigning usage labels, summarizing their origins, and defining them. At least two have taken different approaches, clustering terms in categories. One is Richard A. Spears' NTC's Thematic Dictionary of American Slang (McGraw-Hill, 1998). Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanismsis another.
While Spears' dictionary has more than 800 categories and is more historical than edgy, Dickson's dictionary of American slang differs in significant ways. Its 30 topical areas include the timeless, such as "Food and Drink," "Medical and Emergency Room Slang," "Teen and High School Slang," and, of course, "The Sultry Slang of Sex." It also includes the very contemporary, such as "Java-speak" (modern coffeehouse slang) and "Net-speak." However, the Net-speak chapter falls short through a lack of slang terms from the world of bloggers. Blogassary [http://www.blogossary.com/] offers more.
Dickson's bare-bones entries simply offer definitions on each term--no origins, no usage labels, no examples of the word in use. Occasional sidebars, however, provide fuller information on select terms, such as numbers with special meaning in drug culture, the emergence and acceptance of phat, and bird-watchers' lingo.
A prefatory essay introduces each topical area and characterizes its argot. These essays underscore the creativity of slang as well as its occasional absurdity, as in the grandiose names for what could unpretentiously be called small, medium-sized, and large cups of coffee. Informative, reliable, entertaining, and modern, this topical slang dictionary complements the more staid slang lexicons and more scholarly general dictionaries. James Rettig
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“With focus, a passion for language, and a word-class ear, Dickson has produced brilliant chapter after brilliant chapter, any one of which would be a lifetime achievement for most lexicographers.” ―Tom Dalzell, Senior Editor The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English and author of Flappers 2 Rappers--American Youth Slang and The Slang of Sin
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The arrangement of slang into "topics," though, means that if you want to know the meaning of a particular slang word, you must use the fine-print index to look it up, then turn to the page number the word is on. This doesn't bother me, however, because each slang dictionary seems to have its own take on usage, and Dickson's take is area-of-origin of the slang term, and, because he chose to confine the terms to individual chapters, that requires an index.
The English language, especially the American variant lacks any such sense of formality and is creating new words just as fast as anyone can think them up. Many of them, especially in the computer field aren't words at all but TLA's (Three Letter Acronym) that substitute brevity to save typing.
Every aspect of American society has been busy creating new words, almost it would seem just for the fun of it. And this book is organized (if you can call it organized at all) by the general areas where the new words began, such as: Automotive, Bureaucrat, Computer, Drugs, Media, Medical (Sub-title: words you don't want to hear from your hospital bed --C&T Ward: Place where comatose patients are placed in a hospital - it stands for 'cabbages and turnips.'), politics, schools, and on and on.
It's easily enough to keep you ROTFLOL - Rolling on the Floor Laughing Out loud, or even ROTFLMAO - Rolling on the Floor Laughing My A__ Off.
Dickson's latest and greatest third edition of Slang is a strong case in point. First, Dickson's topical organization of Slang puts it heads and shoulders above other slang books in terms of utility. (That brilliant approach dates back to the original edition first published in 1990.) Thus, as a writer and editor by trade, I keep it nearby as an "elbow reference" whenever I'm writing to, for, or about a specialized group--whether it be professional (information tech, doctors, businessmen) political (politicians, pundits, and decisionmakers), or cultural (youth audiences, artists and performers, advertisers and marketers). Many a time, Dickson has given me just the right expression or term to stretch the presentation of my knowledge or insight just the little bit that helped me save face. And thus he's also aided and abetted my appearing to be up to date and cool, even hip, when it comes to my available vernacular vocabulary.
Thus I reveal myself to be standing defiantly on the cusp of geezerdom, but with the help of Paul Dickson's Slang, I will continue to hold my own with the lingo of specialists and across generational divides --whether I'm talking to a computer salesman or deciphering e-mails from my sons. Cudos, too, to Dickson's publisher Walker Books for bringing out this much-expanded edition in such an elegant and highly useful format.
My Paul Dickson reference shelf will be squeezed a bit tighter as I move over his new edition of Labels for Locals (which appeared earlier this fall from Collins) to make space for Slang 3e. The former book is an equally valuable reference to what to call people from wherever in the world they're from and to whatever identity group they may belong, especially in our p.c. era of sensitivity to names and labels.